A random beating on what should have been a typical summer night out for two Land O' Lakes teens has drawn the attention of radio personality Bubba The Love Sponge, who's offering $500 for information leading to an arrest.
Nick Hoffman, 17, was beaten by three men, one of whom used a bat, on July 2 after his girlfriend ignored them when they tried to get her attention driving down the road.
Tuesday morning, Bubba The Love Sponge read an email from Hoffman's father detailing the incident. After reading the note, the radio host went on a tirade:
"For you three guys … are you pretty tough now?" Bubba asked sarcastically. "Do you feel good about yourself? Are you the man because you commandeered a guy out of a truck with a bat, put him in a ditch, and beat the crap out of him, while flirting with his girlfriend? Does that make you a man? Does that make you a stud? Are you the man?"
Hoffman, a rising senior who plays on the defensive and offensive lines for the Sunlake High School football team, and his girlfriend were headed home following a night out at Pizza Villa in Land O' Lakes. His 18-year-old girlfriend, Avalon, was driving his Chevy pickup while Hoffman sat in the passenger seat.
About 8:30 p.m., they were heading west on State Road 54 and had just crossed U.S. 41 when a bluish-gray or graphite-colored, four-door Chevrolet turned right onto S.R. 54, according to a report filed with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
The truck, with four men inside, pulled beside the couple.
The group pulled up to the driver's side of the truck, waving cellphones trying to get Avalon to call them, according to Chuck Hoffman, Nick's father.
She waved them off, but the harassment continued.
"My son sat up out of the seat where they could see him and kind of gave them the look like, 'Hey guys, this is my girlfriend here,'" Chuck Hoffman said.
After words and gestures were exchanged, one of the men began throwing change at Hoffman's truck, hitting the windshield, his father said. Nick Hoffman retuned the gesture, pelting the men's truck with change, prompting the men to follow the teens.
Near the intersection of a Raintree Road and Riverstone Drive, Hoffman told his girlfriend to pull over.
The Chevrolet stopped behind Hoffman and two men immediately got out and tackled Hoffman, throwing him into a ditch, according to the sheriff's office. The driver went to a chrome toolbox in the back of his truck to get a bat.
Hoffman was beaten by the three, suffering cuts to his head and leg, as well as bruises on his face.
"The doctor has said that my son is extremely, extremely lucky," Chuck Hoffman said.
"He took about three blows to the head, one in the face, one in the chin, one in the leg, one in the back. He's just extremely lucky that he's an athlete that's resilient," he said.
Chuck Hoffman said the beating didn't end until his son's girlfriend got out of the truck and pleaded for the suspects to stop.
The men all wore bright yellow shirts with a company logo on the left front of the shirt and white lettering on the back.
A fourth man with a long, gray beard stayed in the truck.
The group left the neighborhood, headed toward New Port Richey.
"The reason why I read that, and it's very long-winded, is because that could happen to your son or my son," Bubba told his listeners.
"Here's a guy that's with his girlfriend, driving down the road, she's driving, a couple heathens come by, they start flirting around, there's exchanges, they then are headed home. These guys follow the pickup truck and then beat this guy into a ditch," he said.
So far, the Bubba the Love Sponge show has only received one tip, which didn't check out, according to Brent Hatley, the show's executive producer.
Nick Hoffman followed them almost to Madison Street, trying to get a license plate number, but he had to stop to for gas.
Chuck Hoffman shudders to think what could have happened if Nick's girlfriend was alone.
"Her parents, that made them nervous, too," he said. "My son's truck sits high, so they may not even have seen him until he sat up out of his seat. They may have thought they were messing around with a girl in a big truck, you know. … It could have been a whole lot worse."
Anyone with information is asked to call the Pasco County Sheriff's Office at (727) 844-7711. Bubba The Love Sponge is also collecting information at firstname.lastname@example.org.